A recently released add-on for Firefox gives those who install it the power to hijack access to the Facebook accounts and more of those in their close proximity. The add-on goes by the name of Firesheep, and it has created a stir concerning the security of public Wi-Fi spots and some websites.
Eric Butler, a freelance web application developer from Seattle, is the man behind the creation of Firesheep. He introduced his new add-on to the public during ToorCon 12, a security conference that took place last weekend in San Diego. As for the reason behind the release of such a controversial add-on, Butler stated that he created Firesheep to demonstrate the negative consequences that can occur when accessing an unencrypted website over a public Wi-Fi connection.
In a post on his blog, Butler also stated that Firesheep shows how sites like Facebook and Twitter must do a better job at encrypting their sites to protect their users' privacy. Rather than releasing new privacy features over and over again, Butler suggests that the sites should fully encrypt sessions using SSL or HTTPS.
Butler's blog post detailed how the privacy problems occur. When accessing a site such as Facebook, for example, the user enters their username and password to log in to the account. The site's server will look for an account that matches the username and password, and if found, it will reply back with a cookie that the browser uses for other requests during the session.
Although the login process is usually encrypted, other actions usually are not. Thus, the cookie is not protected, and a hacker can hijack the cookie and the HTTP session. This process, sometimes referred to as sidejacking, allows the hacker to perform actions on a website as if they were the owner of that specific account. If someone tries to access such a site on an open wireless network, they are extremely vulnerable to these attacks, as cookies are left out in the open over the network, and ready for the taking.
Installing Firesheep creates a sidebar. After connecting to an open Wi-Fi network and clicking the Start Capturing button, the Firesheep user will see the name and photo of anyone on the wireless network that is visiting an insecure website. Double-clicking on the person in the interface will log the user into the website as that person. For the process to work, it is best to connect to a wireless network in a busy location. Also, people will only appear if they are visiting a site known to Firesheep. Besides Facebook and Twitter, Firesheep can be used to hijack other sites such as Amazon, Flickr, Google, and bit.ly.
As of now, Firesheep is available for Windows and Mac OS X, and a Linux version is on the way. In less than a week online, Firesheep has already seen over 50,000 downloads. While many downloaders are undoubtedly using the add-on to spy on others, Butler hopes that its release will push websites to become more secure.
For more, visit the Computerworld story.
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